Jaina slept fitfully, turning restlessly beneath the blankets and shoveltusk fur.   The shrill, constant call of the frigid north wind seemed to come right through the sturdy walls of Valgard Keep, into her chambers...into her mind.  There was a coldness to Northrend that went beyond the ice and snow.  Somewhere in the distance a wolf howled; moments later it was answered by the guttural screech of a protodrake.

Jaina opened her eyes, gazing blearily at the last embers glowing deep in the fireplace.

I shouldn't have come, she thought for the hundredth time.  The Argent Crusade, the Ebon Blade...they have plenty of troops.  They don't need me.   I should be back in Theramore.  I shouldn't get involved.  I can't...

She rolled over, turning her back to the fireplace, and closed her eyes again.

It was hardly uncommon for those fresh off the boat in Northrend to harbor fears and second thoughts.  This was a harsh land, filled with dangers both ancient and emerging--even discounting the Scourge.

Jaina's trepidation was rather different.  She had confidence in her skills as a mage and felt prepared to defend herself, come what may.  What gave her pause was the doubt that simmered in the back of her mind, the terrifying notion that she would hesitate at that crucial moment when the combined forces of the Alliance and the Horde stormed the gates of Icecrown and brought the battle to the Lich King's doorstep.

What would she do when she saw him again?  A thousand times she had played the scene out in her mind, and a thousand times had failed to predict what her reaction would be.

Would she have the resolve to attack him without mercy?  Would she hesitate, freeze and do nothing, merely watching as others took up the battlecry?  Would she dare to try reasoning with him, to try to salvage some shred of humanity lurking behind that saronite helmet?  Or, worst of all, would she lash out at her own friends and allies to defend him?

Each possibility horrified her in different ways.

Jaina opened her eyes again, looking at the thin piece of sky visible between the curtains.  Northern lights waved and undulated in the clear sky.

She was an intellectual person.  As a scholar she respected the Light but truly revered knowledge.  From a practical, logical angle, there should be no question whatsoever.  The Lich King was a force of evil and destruction, already responsible for the utter destruction of so much she held dear, and threatening to do the same to all of Azeroth.  He was the greatest threat since the Burning Legion, and there was no reason to hold back.  The sooner he was destroyed, the sooner all the world's civilizations would be safe.

That was the rhetoric of the Argent Crusade and all the rest.  She believed it, of course.  She agreed, she concentrated her efforts on aiding them, she had seen the truth of it first-hand, and yet...

Arthas.  He had been her oldest friend and confidant.  Her playmate.   Her protector.  Her lover.  Her prince.  She had known him better than anyone.  She saw his stubbornness, pride, and headstrong ways, and had loved him in spite of it--or perhaps because of it.  They were very much alike.  She also saw his devotion to his kingdom and its people, his drive to prove himself worthy of his father's crown, his faith in the Light, and his fear of failing to live up to the lofty expectations heaped upon him since the day of his birth.  She saw, too, how much he loved her.  Their obligations kept them apart so much of the time, and it seemed as though he tried to make up for lost time when they were finally able to share a day together.  She allowed him to be merely a man, if only for a short time.   Not a prince, not a paladin, not a soldier or a statesman.  Just a man.   She wondered sometimes if it was that freedom that he relished even more than her company, but whenever such doubts made it to her lips he kissed them away.

Jaina knew that the Arthas she had known and loved was gone, just as dead as both their fathers and countless others.  She knew this, yet still her heart wondered, and hoped, and despaired.

The last time she had seen him had been at the gates of Stratholme.  She had replayed that last confrontation over in her mind hundreds of times, wondering what she could have said or done differently.  Should she have stayed and helped him in his gruesome task?  Would a shared burden have been less damaging to his soul?   Would she have fallen as well?  Could she have convinced him to try something, anything else?  Would he have joined her in fleeing to Kalimdor?

That last question, at least, she knew the answer to.  Arthas would never have abandoned his kingdom, not while a single citizen of Lordaeron still drew breath.

The other questions haunted her.  She had had chances, had tried so hard to make him listen to reason, and had failed.  Surely another day, another few hours, would not have made a difference.  She could not blame herself for all that had happened since the fall of Stratholme.  One way or another, its citizens were doomed.   But one soul, one so closely linked to her own...could she have pulled him from the brink that day?

And of more immediate importance, could she still lead him back from this path of darkness?  Could anyone?

Just a few years ago she had been pondering whether to take Arthas' hand in marriage.   How, then, was she now contemplating taking his life?

He was gone, beyond all hope of redemption.  She knew that.  So why did she keep torturing herself with such foolish hopes?  She wanted him back to the way he was before.  She wanted it so badly it hurt, but that would not make it true.

Jaina turned over again, finding another comfortable position, and made a concentrated effort to keep her mind blank.  She had to get some sleep.  Fatigue would do nothing to help her face tomorrow, and whatever it would bring.


There was an orc in her dream.  Jaina had known many orcs, some berserk enemies and other fierce allies--even, at least in one case, a dear friend.  None were like the orc now emerging from the mists of dreaming.  He was old, his body emaciated and stooped under the burden of years.  His attire reminded her of a cross between a traditional orcish shaman and a troll witchdoctor.  Bones were braided into his long, white hair, and strange fibers and furs dangled from his belt.  What truly drew the eye, however, was his facepaint:  chalky white and charcoal black giving the appearance of a skull.

Jaina shivered at the orc's impassive death's gaze, unable to move.  Her dream-self was rooted in place, perhaps even disembodied.  The old orc seemed to have paralyzed her with mere eye contact.

"So you are the one," he said in heavily-accented Common.  "He thinks of you often."

Who? Jaina wanted to ask but found herself unable to speak.

"I do not know what you hope to accomplish here, human, but you will never--arg!"   The orc suddenly fell to one knee, grasping  his head as if trying to keep it in one piece.  "You insolent little whelp!" he snarled, though clearly not speaking to Jaina.  "Fordring destroyed it!  You're not supposed to be able to--"  He grimaced in obvious pain.

The voice of a young boy, strangely familiar to her, come from the mists.  "Not!   Her!"

The orc staggered to his feet.  "Surrender, you sniveling brat!  You cannot hope to win."

"Hope..." came the voice, fainter now.  "Always hope...  Must be."

"Silence!" roared the orc.

"Jaina...stop us...  Please forgi--"

"Enough!"  A bolt of blue lightning crackled from the orc's weathered hands, slicing the mists apart.

She still could not see anything in the gloom, but one final whisper teased her ears before all fell into blackness.  "Jaina...   Love you..."

She would remember nothing of the dream when morning came.


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